When is it Wise to Mediate?
Marital conflict often presents difficult challenges to counselors, friends, and other peacemakers who are trying to help the couple whose marriage is in trouble. Several different forces, acting simultaneously, are usually in play. There are the emotional and spiritual concerns of the husband and wife, there is fear about the future that may extend to the children of the marriage, and there are usually financial concerns and uncertainty about how everyone can be adequately provided for if the marriage dissolves. In many cases these various aspects of the crisis feed upon each other, making it even more difficult to solve the problems.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the courtroom is not a good place to resolve these issues. Yet in many cases the financial issues make the parties feel that they must seek the court’s intervention. When they do, it is even more difficult for a counselor or other professional who is working with the couple to work on the emotional and spiritual issues that may really be the root of the problem.
An effective way for the couple to work on the financial issues in a non-adversarial environment is available through the process of mediation. Yet sometimes people who are trying to help the couple are not sure when a case can be successfully mediated,
The questions below are designed to help a struggling couple, their professional helpers and friends determine whether a particular situation is likely to benefit from mediation.
- Does at least one of the spouses want to keep a civil and constructive relationship with the other spouse, even if they are divorced? If so, mediation can help avoid bitterness and anger that often builds up during the process of separation and divorce.
- Does the couple have minor children? Separation and divorce of parents always has a traumatic effect on children. Many of the decisions that must be made by the divorcing parents have a direct impact on their children. For instance, where will the children live? How much time will they spend with each parent? How will each child’s financial needs be met? Mediation provides a framework for making those decisions in a way that recognizes the best interests of all concerned, but is not adversarial. And usually those decisions can be made much quicker with the aid of a mediator.
- Do the parties desire to settle the issues surrounding their separation in an efficient and cost-effective manner? Mediation is nearly always much less expensive than going to court, and a workable agreement can usually be made quickly without waiting on clogged court calendars. One legislative study showed that overall costs of mediated agreements are 40 percent less than matters resolved through litigation.
- Do the parties need “breathing room” and time to reflect before they make permanent decisions about the future of their relationship? A mediation agreement can provide a structure for a family to handle day-to-day matters such as paying bills, having access to the marital home, caring for children, etc. while larger decisions about whether the marriage can be saved are made. A temporary agreement reached through mediation can relieve pressure and free the couple to concentrate on the emotional and spiritual issues facing them.
- Do the parties want their discussions and decisions to be kept private and confidential? Mediation sessions are confidential, and details are not part of any public record. The final agreement may be made a part of the court order if the parties decide to obtain a divorce.
- Does at least one of the parties profess to be a Christian and express a desire to apply biblical principles to the best of their ability in dealing with the conflict? A mediator always remains neutral and treats the parties fairly and equally. However, if the mediator has a Christian world view, he or she can better understand how issues of faith and spirituality play into reaching a solution.
If any of these factors is present in a particular situation, then the couple may receive great value by meeting with a skilled mediator. There is a better-than-even chance that all of the issues in the conflict can be resolved in a manner that is in everyone’s best interests. Even if all issues cannot be resolved, the parties will leave the mediation with a much clearer picture of the issues facing them and constructive ideas for addressing them.